(Still) Not Time to Be Betting on the Return of the Consumer


Even with today’s stronger-than-expected reading for September, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index has not kept pace with increases in many traditional indicators of economic well-being, and it remains signicantly below where it was prior to the financial crisis.

Among the possible reasons for the differential:

  • broad-scale indicators are either overstating how good current conditions are do not adequately describe circumstances at the micro (e.g., household) level;
  • a large share of the macro-level improvements have accrued to a small number of Americans (e.g., the wealthy); or,
  • longer-term concerns, including worries over retirement and future job prospects [and levels of outstanding debts, which is leading some to turn to alternatives like same day payday loans or, in the United Kingdom, Company Rescue CVA], are overshadowing short-term improvements.

Regardless of which, if any, of these explanations is correct, the fact that consumer sentiment remains below where it should be, historically speaking, means that it’s (still) not time to be betting on the return of the American consumer.